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Citizen Sports: Beyond Football

The Birds are, sadly, not in this year’s Super Bowl—but they are still champions off the field

The Birds are, sadly, not in this year’s Super Bowl—but they are still champions off the field

What if DeSean Jackson wasn’t injured in week two? What if Carson Wentz didn’t suffer that concussion? Or what if Josh McCown didn’t tear his hamstring?

Despite the Eagles having been picked by many football analysts to win the Super Bowl, those what-ifs prevented the 2019 Birds from realizing their potential as the “most talented roster in the NFL,” as Pro Football Focus declared before this season.

We’ll judge this season by the win-loss record. We’ll judge our players by the statistics they compiled on the field. But maybe we should consider more.

Reflecting on his career, recently retired NFL linebacker Luke Kuechly said, “When you love the players for who they are, I think that transcends the game.”

So before we drift into the aimless expanse of the NFL offseason, let’s look at the contributions our 2019 Eagles made off the field.

Modeling Leadership

Since his arrival in 2014, Safety Malcolm Jenkins has become the “quarterback” of the defense, calling audibles and directing other players on the field.

You may also remember Jenkins using hand-written cards to make statements on the NFL protests, gun violence, and social injustice.

“Throughout his career, Malcolm has consistently used his platform to draw attention to injustice and underserved populations,” recalled Jeffrey Lurie, Eagles chairman and CEO. (Jenkins wrote a column on these issues for The Citizen. His articles for his Criminal Justice Season can be found here.)

This year, the Eagles nominated Jenkins for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, which “recognizes an NFL player for outstanding community service activities off the field, as well as excellence on the field.”

His Malcolm Jenkins Foundation has provided more than $130,000 in scholarships to college-bound seniors since 2012.

In 2017, Jenkins orchestrated two days of meetings with NFL officials and politicians and lawmakers in Harrisburg, where he helped support bills related to criminal justice reform—namely, Clean Slate legislation.

Also in 2017, Jenkins co-founded the Players Coalition, a public charity and advocacy organization to advance social justice and racial equity.

Funding Opportunity

Jenkins’ advocacy also sparked the creation of the Eagles Social Justice Fund of the Philadelphia Foundation.

The Fund provides grants to Philadelphia organizations that reduce barriers to equal opportunity. In 2019, the Fund provided $373,000 to 22 local non-profit organizations.

2019 Grantees included Community Legal Services, Center for Returning Citizens, and the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program.

The Fund is built through one-to-one matching donations from players and the club, and is the spiritual descendent of Colin Kaepernick’s anthem protests, which shook the NFL.

The grantees were selected by members of the Eagles Social Justice Leadership Council, which includes players Rasul Douglas, Malcolm Jenkins, Avonte Maddox, Jalen Mills and Rodney McLeod. (That’s right: The secondary you love to hate is also lifting up the social justice workers of Philadelphia.)

Uplifting the Community

On November 15, 2019, the Camden Panthers faced the Pleasantville Greyhounds in their high school playoff football game.

With no warning, gunfire suddenly erupted from the stands, injuring two people. “Everyone ran for cover; the place went crazy,” game photographer April Saul told USA Today.

Camden High School football coach Dwayne Savage. Photo: Philadelphia Eagles

Camden High School coach Dwayne Savage never thought to cancel that November 15 game. “Football, or sports in general, are community events,” said Savage. “So by playing the game, it helps the communities heal and gives the students a chance to showcase their pride for the town/city.”

After announcing on social media that the game would be completed at a neutral site and without fans, Savage received a call from an Eagles representative. Five days later, the communities convened to resume the game—at Lincoln Financial Field.

Coach Savage inspired his locker room with the theme of “unfinished business,” and Camden went on to dedicate their victory to the memory of Micah Tennant, the 10-year-old boy who lost his life.

For this, and many other achievements over his 23-year coaching career, the Eagles nominated Dwayne Savage for the 2019 Don Shula NFL High School Coach of the Year Award. “Violence,” Savage says, “will not or can not overcome the good in people.”

Caring For Kids

Autism research and awareness is a signature focus of Eagles Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Lurie. With autism in his family, Lurie’s family foundation has contributed more than $75 million to fund autism research and clinical programs.

In the two years since launching the Eagles Autism Challenge, an annual 5K bike and run event, the team has raised more than $7 million in funding for local institutions focusing on autism research.

Lincoln Financial Field Sensory Room. Photo: Philadelphia Eagles

This year, the Eagles worked with Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and KultureCity to design and build a 500-square-foot, state-of-the-art sensory room, offering noise-cancelling headphones, fidget tools and weighted lap pads to guests in need.

With training for Eagles employees and stadium staff to recognize and accommodate guests with sensory needs, and work with concessions manager Aramark to support employment opportunities for adults with autism, Lincoln Financial Field was officially certified as a sensory-inclusive stadium.

These efforts have been organized under a new Eagles Autism Foundation, which will oversee the largest-yet Autism Challenge in 2020.

Anyone who wants to support autism research and care can register for the third annual Eagles Autism Challenge, to be held on Saturday, May 16, 2020.

The 5K bike and run fundraising event will begin and ends at Lincoln Financial Field with participants crossing the 50-yard line.

Learn more about the Eagles Autism Challenge or register here.

Of course, Philly would’ve loved another unlikely run to the Super Bowl. But what the Eagles accomplish off the field should be a part of how we remember the season.

In addition to these highlights, the Eagles are also the greenest team in sports, and players like Carson Wentz, Nate Sudfeld and DeSean Jackson operate their own charitable foundations.

And there’s Jason Kelce, whose weekly column for The Citizen this season cast a much-deserved spotlight on the people and organizations who are uplifting Philly public school students.

In their commitment to giving back, our Birds uphold a winning legacy, and prove they are one of the signature franchises of the National Football League.

Philly sports fans may always pick apart bad decisions and agonize over bad losses—we’ve probably at some point called for every player and coach’s job. But we also love unconditionally those who embrace and see the promise of our insecure city.

If we begin to look at our athletes as not just a collection of statistics, but as members of our community with a rare and powerful platform to give back, that’s when we, together, can transcend this game.

Eagles Quarterback Carson Wentz, Owner Jeffrey Lurie and Tight End Zack Ertz at the Autism Challenge. Photo: Philadelphia Eagles

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